Wednesday, March 07, 2007

New Comic Books (by Joann Sfar)

Yesterday we have been to Academia da Cachaça and, while waiting for my Mom to join us, we decided to check on the bookshop nearby, Da Conde. This bookshop is open quite late, until 1am from Thursdays to Saturdays and then up to midnight the other days. They always have the best DVD's and newest books and comics, as well as lots of art and philosophy. Very cool...

I was looking at the comics section and something immediately caught my interest. A series called "O Gato do Rabino" ("The Rabbi's Cat", check this Amazon page for reviews) by Joann Sfar. I decided to buy volumes 1 and 2 after having a quick browse at the artwork, which seemed outstanding.

I read it when we arrived home and it is simply brilliant. The story is told by a cat belonging to a Rabbi and his daughter, living in Algeria in the beginning of the XXth Century. The cat starts talking after swallowing the Rabbi's pet parrot and, on receiving the gift of the (spoken) word, he starts questioning his own Jewish identity, since he considers himself a "Jewish" cat. He discusses religious and philosophical matters with his master the Rabbi and decides he wants his bar-mitzvah - for he never had it. He also wants to start studying the Kabbalah (instead of the Torah) because "I like starting things from the end", he says.

The whole book is a very well-spotted tribute to Judaism and the life of Jews in Algeria and the Sepharad community in Northern Africa, full of humour and very cute moments as well. The cat is a strange one, of the Sphinx variety, and has expessive long ears and huge eyes. He is witty, intelligent and sarcastic, and loves questioning the world and those humans around him.

The book is also very touching in moments, for example, when the Rabbi leaves home and wanders around, depressed, until he finally meets a old acquaintance of his, the Sheikh Sfar (a wise man from the Arab community). Both of them travel together and chat and sleep and end up praying and celebrating the good news that the Rabbi has received in a letter from Paris. At the same time, the Cat and the Sheikh's Donkey (who also talks and sings) are having an argument on the origin of the names: is the name Sfar a Jewish or an Arab name? It ends up that it's both!

The translation (to Portuguese) is perfect and very, very funny; pretty much in the way we actually speak, with all the expressions and some hilarious slang. all in one, this book is indeed a little gem, mixing naivety and wisdom in equal measures.

I want to get the English version so Mark can enjoy it as well!

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